This week’s Torah portion is Re’eh. In it, Moses reminded the Israelites of the importance to set up a central place of worship. Unlike the pagan cults who occupied the land, Moses and God wanted the Israelites to have a location where they could go and make their offerings to God. During the time of King David, this central location was the city of Jerusalem, and it was his son Solomon who built The Temple (Beit HaMikdash), where Jews worshipped for generations.
Today we no longer have The Temple. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. All that remains is the Temple Mount, where the Temple stood. In its place you now find the Al Asqua Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The closest Jews can come to the former location of The Temple is the Western Wall (Kotel). The Western Wall was not part of the Temple, but instead is part of a larger retaining wall which served as the base for The Temple.
Since the destruction of The Temple, and probably even before that, Jews began to worship God, not in one central location, but instead in central locations. These locations were often called Beit Knesset (House of Assembly), Synagogue (which is Greek for Beit Knesset), or in more recent times, Temples, a supersessionist reference to the Beit HaMikdash.
This is all an around-about way of saying that we, as a Nomadic-Diaspora people, have both central locations to worship God as well as ancillary places. We are not bound to one spot, but instead we build holy sites like our houses of worship. We are also welcome to leave our constructed sacred spaces to create holy encounters in the largest sacred space of all, the world.
Our Torah portion begins with the word ‘Re-eh,’ ‘see’. To ‘see’ God is less about the space where we can ‘see’ God and more about the opportunities for sacred encounters. Some travel to the highest mountains or densest forests to ‘see’ God. Others ‘see’ God in the people they worship with. And still others ‘see’ God in sacred moments rather than sacred places.
This is why we can worship just as easily in a park as we can in our sanctuary. It is all about what we bring to the experience that defines the quality and meaning of potential sacred encounters. Apologies to Moses, we no longer need a central location to worship God, as long as the worship involves our hearts and our souls.
All the rest simply remains to be seen.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff